With football winding down and cold snaps blanketing the fine state of Texas, it's time to talk a little Fightin' Texas Aggie basketball. Our Ags are currently sitting at 5-0, which might be a testament to their early season schedule (among the 10 easiest in D1) moreso than their quality play (closer than expected wins against Rice/PVU). But on the bright side, the early cupcakes have allowed Billy Kennedy the opportunity to spread quality minutes among twelve different players. As the non-conference schedule begins to heat up (Houston on 12/4, Oklahoma on 12/21), let's take some time to meet the cast of characters.
* Denotes returning rotation players
*Alex Caruso (6-5 Sophomore Guard; 12 PPG/3 SPG/6 APG): With amazing vision, opportunistic defense, and a sneaky-good ability to finish around the rim, this Swiss-army knife has an all-SEC skill set. He is currently functioning as an overqualified glue guard, however, as he tends to play too unselfishly at times. While it is tough to bemoan any player who always tries to hit the open man, there are times this team could absolutely benefit from him playing more aggressive. If he can increase his aggressiveness while developing an outside shot, his transition from a player who only scores within the flow of the offense to a player that demands the ball in crunch time will be the driving force behind our push to make the NCAA tourney. He leads the team in steals, assists, free throw percentage, minutes, and assist-turnover ratio, and is second on the team in blocked shots and points.
* Kourtney Roberson (6-9 Junior Forward; 14 PPG/8 RPG/74% FG): His effort and demeanor remind me of Bryan Davis, the most stoic of A&M forwards from days gone by. Although he may not have Davis' refined post game, Roberson makes his living on the block and contributes plenty through dump-offs and second chance opportunities. On the defensive side, Roberson draws the opponents toughest big man every night, which has led to some persistent foul issues in the past. Due to our lack of big man depth, his defensive intensity must be met by some level of discretion. He leads the team in points, shooting percentage, and rebounds, and is second in blocked shots.
Antwan Space (6-8 Sophomore Forward; 10 PPG/1.5 BPG/7 RPG): A transfer from Florida State, Space is an extremely athletic wing who has already shown clever off ball movement and great offensive spacing down low. These qualities have led to a quick rapport with Caruso, and the pair have combined for a handful of easy buckets. Might be pressed into some undersized PF duty, which could be problematic during conference play. Can still do an adequate job protecting the rim through raw athleticism, and the future looks bright if he can fill out a bit and add some weight to his natural ability. He leads the team in blocks, is second in rebounds, and third in points.
Shawn Smith (6-4 Freshman Guard; 10 PPG/5 RPG/37.5% 3PT): Smith has been a pleasant surprise, showing a quick first step and an above-average ability to create his own shot. This quickness, coupled with range that is just good enough to keep defenses honest, should prevent him from seeing the Dash Harris treatment. On the defensive side, Smith has already separated himself as the team's premier perimeter defender. Another player with a very bright future, he is second on the team in FT% and minutes played, and third in 3PT% and rebounds.
* Jordan Green (6-5 Junior Guard; 9 PPG/65% FG/43% 3PT): After a somewhat timid and uninspired 2012/13 season, Jordan Green has looked like a completely different player this year. Although he has been the most pleasant surprise of the early campaign, Green's energy can get him in trouble on the defensive end. This is shown by his early season foul trouble, but he's playing with a confidence that is hard to ignore. He is second on the team in both FG% and 3PT%.
* Fabyon Harris (5-11 Senior Guard; 8 PPG/63% FG/67% 3PT): While the 67% statistic only reflects six three-point attempts, I wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to praise one of the only consistent outside shooters this team has to offer. Harris spent most of the 2012 season as the second option behind Elston Turner, and was often left to create with little help while Elston was on the bench. This team has more flexibility in 2013, and Harris appears encouraged by the concept of shooting threes without defenders draped all over him. He leads the team in 3PT%, is second in assists, and third in FG%.
* J-Mychal Reese (6-1 Sophomore Guard): Was suspended for the opening four games for an unspecified violation of team rules, but looked good in his 15 minutes against SHSU. Interested to see how he slots into the existing rotation.
Jamal Jones (6-8 Junior Guard): JC pickup who has been bit by the early season shooting bug. Can't see him getting big minutes unless he starts knocking down open looks, but as mentioned earlier Kennedy has been willing to go 10-12 deep early in the season (even in close games). Really interested to see what his minutes look like against a tough opponent.
Davonte Fitzgerald (6-7 Freshman Forward): The only thing this team has remotely resembling big man depth. He's as aggressive as he is raw, and he will likely be pressed into service ahead of schedule if Roberson gets in foul trouble.
Tavario Miller (6-7 Freshman Forward): Young forward by way of the Bahamas. Has potential, but can't see him logging significant minutes in conference play. Stay tuned.
Dylan Johns (6-11 Freshman Center): Johns came our way from across the pond (Ipswich, England). He is getting early opportunities due to our schedule, but his pick-and-roll defense will likely limit his minutes at the business end of the season. An interesting one to keep an eye on, as his height will all but guarantee him time once he develops.
A handful of early narratives have revealed themselves after the opening slate. First and foremost, this team has multiple offensive guard options. Long gone are the days of one player taking 25+ shots (although damn it was fun to watch Elston heat up), as 5-7 different players can reach double figures on any given night. This influx of offensive creators has led to a glut of good 3-point looks... which the Ags can't hit. At all. The long ball did look better in the most recent game against SHSU, but days like that will have to be the norm (not the exception) if A&M is to make any real noise. On the front line the goal is much simpler - stay on the floor. If Roberson stays out of foul trouble, our forward depth is capable of providing effective high energy defense in short bursts. But if the young bigs are seeing extended time, getting pounded on the boards could become our new reality. Offensively, very little emphasis is placed on dumping the ball down low, as none of the available options have displayed a reliable post game.
In the end, the season will come down to our conference games against fellow middle-of-the-pack SEC schools. There is a ton of growing potential between now and then, and I can't wait to see how this team attacks the latter part of the non conference schedule to prepare.
Any thoughts on the games played so far? Changes you'd like to see in the rotation? Hit the comments below.